Swiss Elections Unmask Bigotry

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 4:10 PM EDT

For most of us, Switzerland evokes images of green hillsides, rotund dairy cows, and Julie Andrews, not rock-throwing protesters and tear gas. But that was the scene in Bern this weekend when demonstrators from the country's ultra-right wing party clashed with counter-protesters and riot police.

Tensions in Switzerland have been escalating in the run-up to the October 21 general elections. At the center of the debate are the country's immigration policies. A campaign poster for the powerful right-wing Swiss People's Party shows three white sheep kicking away a single black sheep, with the caption, "To Create Security." Twenty percent of Switzerland's population is foreign born (many newcomers are from war-torn countries like Kosovo and Rwanda), and a staggering 70% of its prison population is as well. The Swiss People's Party, which holds the most seats in the country's Parliament, claims these figures are an indication that immigrants are prone to criminality and should be kicked out of Switzerland. But this simplistic logic brings about a chicken-before-the-egg question: Is the bigotry that is fueling Switzerland's current political climate also what is sending an inordinate amount of its immigrants to jail?

The U.N. has condemned the inflammatory poster and the Swiss People's Party proposal to deport foreign-born criminals and their families. All of this is set against the backdrop of pristine perfection for which Switzerland is famous. Zurich and Geneva rank first and second for cities with the best quality of life worldwide.

—Celia Perry

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